The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervorless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
In general, I prefer Hardy the poet to Hardy the novelist. In his fiction, he's so eager to prove that the Universe has it in for Humankind that he stacks the deck. Thus, Tess goes to her doom because of a letter that slips under the carpet when it's slid under the door. But at least in "The Darkling Thrush" there's some cold comfort: a bird's song arousing Hope.
Of course, old Hardy knows that things are going to remain "desolate," "weakening" and "fervorless." The poem, famously, was published in the Times of London on January 1, 1901, the first day of a new century, and was originally given the perhaps more Hardyesque title "By the Century's Deathbed." Given that the century a-borning would see two World Wars and all manner of atrocity besides, that hopeful thrush turned out to be a birdbrain.